Trevor Parry-Giles & Shawn J. Parry-Giles (2006). The Prime-Time Presidency: The West Wing and U. S. Nationalism. (Urbana, IL: Univ. of Illinois Press). 221 + x pp. ISBN 0-252-07312-6 (paper) $25.00. 0-252-03065 (cloth) $50.00. Episode and character directory, notes, bibliography and index.
This may be the first review in Media Ethics of a volume that takes account of "the ambiguous mirror," Lee Loevinger's thesis that the media both reflect and project. The West Wing certainly has its detractors and its supporters--but there are few television programs that created such strong feelings over seven full seasons. Although the fictional "Jed Bartlet" obviously could not be elected president by the real American electorate, the desirability such a possibility was mentioned many times (in one survey he received 14%), accompanied by deep sighs of regret, during real political campaigns in the recent past.
The Prime-Time Presidency will not be the last word on The West Wing. It only deals with the first four seasons (essentially, through the period ending in mid-season 2002-2003 when Aaron Sorkin wrote almost all of the scripts). Furthermore, although the first of the five chapters considers The West Wing as a political romance, the other chapters have as their thesis that much of the content concerned forms of nationalism: gendered, racialized and militarized nationalism. Nevertheless, as this issue of Media Ethics is distributed during the last weeks of the "Bartlet administration," it is extraordinarily interesting to hold the ambiguous mirror up to The West Wing--and to ourselves.